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WALKING THE CIRCLE: The 4 guiding pillars for a Circular Economy

Walking cycle: the 4 guiding pillars of circular economy

Effective materials management, reduction of toxic substances, energy efficiency and economic incentives

The circular economy can bring significant environmental, social and economic benefits to the EU. In order to achieve resource efficiency, job creation, low-carbon prosperity, a healthy environment, cleaner production and sustainable consumption, it is necessary to adopt a holistic approach through work across multiple policy areas. If it is not possible to solve all aspects of the problem by formulating only partial solutions, the EU will not be able to enjoy the overall benefits that a circular economy can provide.

This article focuses on the following four key areas that the signed NGOs believe that EU institutions must address to ensure the full operation of the circular economy, as well as some of the often overlooked benefits that may arise.

Resource efficiency and zero waste: the foundation of a true circular economy

Although we live on a planet with limited resources, the global exploitation of resources is increasing rapidly [1]. The EU is a net importer of natural resources[2]; from precious metals to the water or land needed to produce every product we consume. At the same time, our linear economic model resulted in 50% of European municipal waste being landfilled or incinerated, resulting in a large amount of carbon emissions [3]. Our poor management of natural resources has led to many environmental problems: climate change, resource depletion, the release of toxic pollutants and marine debris, to name a few. It is estimated that the full implementation of the EU waste law can save up to 72 billion euros[4].

A true circular economy will reduce input in the form of resources and output in the form of waste and emissions. The EU's circular economy should aim to achieve high resource efficiency, zero waste and zero emissions.

Therefore, the transition to a circular economy requires fundamental changes to the entire economy based on the following interdependent pillars:

Material management from extraction to waste

Europe needs to fundamentally improve the efficiency of its management of material resources, which can be measured by the continuous decrease in per capita resource usage. This can be achieved by gradually closing the cycle using effective product and waste policies.

In order to solve Europe’s resource dependence, the EU needs to measure and reduce its material, water, land and carbon footprint. The material footprint (based on raw material consumption, measured by Eurostat) should be included as an indicator in the European semester.

Product design is the basis for achieving the goal of circular economy. Good design can improve product and process performance, eliminate harmful materials, promote and encourage product repair and reuse, and can also ensure the use of recyclable and recyclable materials.

The EU should formulate requirements related to product design in four ways: (1) Through the full implementation of the eco-design directive, and expand and adapt it to non-energy-related products; (2) Through the waste framework and packaging and packaging waste directives; (3) ) Through existing tools, such as eco-labels, green public procurement and energy labels, and (4) through certification and standardization tools.

A reliable long-term zero-waste policy is not only essential to eliminate waste, but also to establish a feedback mechanism at the end of the life cycle, allowing products to be redesigned and re-entered into the economy, thereby preventing them from becoming waste. Therefore, an enforceable waste hierarchy that guides prevention, reuse and recycling activities with ambitious goals while promoting zero landfill and zero incineration is absolutely necessary. In addition, it is necessary to develop a unified definition and a single measurement method so that member states can monitor the progress of each activity towards the common goal of zero waste.

Poisons, chemicals and health

Without cleaner production, the circular economy cannot function. The use of toxic substances should be avoided in the design stage, so that products and materials can be closed loop without endangering the quality of the materials and the health of citizens, workers and the environment. This requires changing the way we deal with toxic substances so that in a circular economy, hazardous substances will not hinder the process of reuse, repair and recycling.

This requires stricter application of REACH, and may require more product-specific requirements, such as the ROHS directive; restrictions on substances used in new electronic devices, as a potential model. More stringent regulations are needed to track and minimize the hazardous chemicals in products, which can endanger the ability of products or materials to recycle in the cycle.

When a temporary exemption or authorization is granted to allow the continued presence of hazardous substances in products made from recycled materials, the materials should be labelled and associated with specific markings.

energy efficiency

The circular economy can make a huge contribution to Europe's energy efficiency drive. There is huge potential in protecting the energy embedded in products and materials and preventing them from becoming waste; far beyond what can be produced by burning or landfilling them.

New methods must be developed to explain and reward energy conservation embedded in products or materials. The premium for waste incineration energy has distorted the market. Therefore, unless there is a level playing field embedded in energy conservation, including the prevention, reuse or recycling of greenhouse gas emissions that are considered in the comparison process, they should not be considered.

This new energy management method should be incorporated into the New Energy Alliance strategy, and renewable energy and climate policies should be incorporated through the clean development mechanism. Although this already exists, it is currently guiding public funds to fund infrastructure development that contradicts the concept of circular economy.

Means: economic incentives

Compared with consuming raw resources, it should be cheaper and simpler to maximize resource efficiency and keep materials circulating in the economy. To facilitate this, the EU needs to change the current economic incentives that drive our linear consumption model.The circular economy requires policies to make the sale of services rather than commodities, the sale of repairable, reusable and upgradeable durable goods legally and economically feasible, promote shared or leased ownership, and develop returns or reuse plans. Wasteful practices should be more expensive than these effective practices.

In order to further encourage resource efficiency and zero waste, compared with product service, maintenance and repair operations, resource consumption should be more expensive, and the latter should become cheaper. This will mean that taxation shifts from labor to resources, especially raw resources, because it will help increase employment in Europe and reduce resource use, while encouraging companies to switch to circular production and consumption models. Reducing taxes or tax breaks for repair, reuse and refurbishment businesses, and increasing taxes on disposable and difficult-to-recycle materials are one way to achieve this goal.

In addition, the European Commission should explore the impact, impact and options of extending the minimum legal product warranty period. This will force the manufacturer to take full responsibility for any product failures that occur within the legally prescribed time after purchase.

Economic measures such as incineration and landfill tax are needed to upgrade waste levels. The incineration and landfill of recyclable or compostable materials should be prohibited. Public funds, including public procurement and the 300 billion Euro Junker investment plan, should be prioritized to fund prevention, reuse and recovery infrastructure. The deposit and refund program helps promote the value of recycling to citizens and ensures that common garbage items, such as beverage bottles, are collected and included in the extended producer responsibility program.

Committed to the overall benefits of the four pillars

Economic savings

A circular economy will help reduce the costs associated with mining and transporting raw resources. This will also reduce business resource costs; for example, due to resource efficiency measures, EU manufacturing can save up to 630 billion U.S. dollars per year by 2025. [5]

By 2020, the full implementation of the existing EU waste legislation can save 72 billion euros per year. [6] The waste package proposed in July 2014 is likely to significantly increase these figures.

Job creation The full implementation of existing EU waste legislation will create more than 400,000 jobs. [7] It is estimated that by 2030, the waste plan proposed by the European Commission in July 2014 will create an additional 180,000 direct non-localized jobs. [8] The thorough implementation of the other three pillars discussed here may significantly increase these numbers.

The shift from taxing labor to taxing resources will result in lower labor costs for employers and/or higher take-home wages for employees.

On the contrary, the large investment required to create incineration infrastructure can be reused to develop reuse centers and networks, recycling infrastructure, and renewable energy, all of which require more and better quality jobs than incineration and landfill.

Energy saving

The circular economy will reduce the energy required for the extraction of raw materials and production. Process using secondary raw materials

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